The Virgin Mary's charitable gesture could have had a much different ending.
St. Luke narrates in his Gospel how the Virgin Mary, after receiving news about her cousin’s remarkable conception in her old age, “arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth” (Luke 1:39-40).
It is traditionally believed that Mary received the message of Elizabeth’s pregnancy while residing at her home in Nazareth. Elizabeth was living in Ein Karem at the time, and the distance between the two villages is roughly 100 miles.
Ein Karem is on the outskirts of Jerusalem and is about 2,474 feet above sea level, while Nazareth is at 1,138 feet. This means Mary had to trek uphill nearly 1,336 feet in elevation!
Besides the physical toll it must have taken on the newly pregnant Virgin Mary, the path she took had many hidden dangers.
The dirt path that wound through the mountainous region is believed to have been a popular place for bandits, who would surprise unsuspecting travelers.
The good news is that the Virgin Mary was likely not alone. While the Gospel only mentions Mary, it makes sense that Joseph would have ensured the safety of his betrothed.
According to writer J. A. Loarte, “Most likely it was Joseph who arranged the trip, looking for a caravan in which the Blessed Virgin could travel safely. He himself may have accompanied her, at least as far as Jerusalem; some commentators even think he went with Mary right to Ain Karim, which is only five miles from the capital. If so, he would have needed to return immediately to his workshop in Nazareth.”
With this in mind, it’s no surprise that Mary went “in haste” to visit Elizabeth, hoping that their caravan wouldn’t be overrun by those who lurked in the shadows and caves of the mountains.
The Visitation presented many risks to Mary, yet she trusted that God would protect her and allow her to assist her aging cousin. It is a beautiful mystery, one that only deepens when you learn about the geography and the obstacles Mary had to overcome to visit Elizabeth.
Bible geography lesson: Where are Bethlehem, Nazareth and Jerusalem?
A closer look at “The Visitation” by Piero di Cosimo